During the inaugural Richard G. Lugar Lecture, Senator Todd Young made the case for global engagement and strong US leadership so that the 21st century is another American century. Senator Young, no stranger to the Hamilton Lugar School’s nonpartisan conference on America’s Role in the World®, also participated in the 2017 edition as a panelist, when he shared his insights as a recently sworn-in senator.
Senator Young represents Hoosiers in the United States Senate and currently serves on the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations; Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; Commerce, Science & Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
A fifth-generation Hoosier, Young graduated with honors from the US Naval Academy in 1995 and accepted a commission in the US Marine Corps. After being honorably discharged from the Navy as a Captain, Young earned a master’s from the School of Advanced Study in London before returning to the United States to work for The Heritage Foundation and later as a legislative assistant for energy policy in the office of Senator Richard G. Lugar in 2001. From 2011 to 2017, Young was the US Representative for Indiana’s 9th congressional district, which runs south of Indianapolis and includes Bloomington. He was elected to the United States Senate on November 8, 2016, succeeding retiring Senator Dan Coats.
Young was ranked the ninth most bipartisan senator in the first session of the 115th Congress by the Bipartisan Index, a metric created by the Lugar Center and Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy to assess congressional bipartisanship.
Senator Young is also a champion for the Department of Education’s prestigious Title VI program, which works to develop and maintain capacity and performance in area and international studies and world languages. In 2018, the Hamilton Lugar School received $20 million in funding for eighteen separate programs through Title VI, a record for IU and the best showing of any university in the country.
After an introduction by President Michael A. McRobbie, which highlighted Senator Young’s career and work with Senator Lugar, Senator Young laid out the challenges the US faces internationally but maintained an optimistic view of the future. Economic strength, democratic principles, and smart leadership can all work to secure a prosperous and safe future for the US, the senator argued, even among turbulent times.
“American leadership has never been more crucial than it is today,” Senator Young said.
In the context of a rising China, an emboldened Putin, and a divided US, Senator Young argued that the country can and must make progress on three fronts: strategic technological investment; smart, flexible nuclear modernization; and ensuring China remains the top priority for our military and diplomats.
Artificial intelligence, robotics, biotech, and green technology are all areas in which the government can wisely invest to improve our strategic advantages, Senator Young argued. There is a long history, he added, of government investment leading to entirely new industries. NASA, originally a $140 billion investment, led to the $2.3 trillion aerospace industry, which includes high levels of exports.
America’s military advantage is in jeopardy, Senator Young also argued, and arms control and nuclear deterrence are crucial to maintaining peace and stability. Renewing New START, which sets limits on Russian nuclear capabilities and that Senator Lugar championed, is a priority.
Acknowledging China’s rise while challenging its state-directed economic model and authoritarian form of governance that blocks democratic processes is now the US’s top foreign policy goal. Protests in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, a negligent response to the COVID-19 outbreak: the US offers something better than this, Young believed.
“America has no option but to lead, always with its values,” Senator Young said.
The BUIILD Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation aimed at providing a democratic alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is an important step in the right direction, argued Young. Investing in developing countries and supporting those nations’ economies and workers must continue as China increases its global footprint.
It’s important that this work be bipartisan. He quoted Senator Lugar: “We have the responsibility to ensure that our first impulse in foreign affairs is one of bipartisanship.”
The senator’s speech was followed by a discussion with John Stehr, an Emmy award-winning anchor who retired from WTHR-Indianapolis. Questions from the audience allowed Senator Young to discuss his request to move the 2022 Olympics from China due to human rights abuses, New START, and the importance of tone and treating colleagues respectfully in the Senate.